The Agony in the Garden & Unanswered Prayers

Every night during family rosary, my husband intones each decade: “The third joyful mystery is….” And every single decade, our oldest blurts out: “THE AGONY IN THE GARDEN!”  It is a clever strategy with a one in twenty chance of being right on any given try.  I’m not sure why he has latched on to this particular mystery as the most memorable, but this year, I also find myself spending much time in contemplating this event in the life of Christ.

Perhaps is simply a product of getting older, losing some of the self-centered attitude of youth and seeing more of life, or maybe social media is saturating me with news of friends I wouldn’t otherwise keep in touch with.  Maybe we really are enduring a year of trial.  Whatever the reason, it seems that my generation of Catholics is experiencing a time of great sorrow.  Everywhere I turn I hear of another need for prayer: young families losing parents, deaths of children, good people facing grave mental and physical illness.  Each time we join together and storm heaven with prayer.  Almost always, the tragedy we had sought to avoid happens all the same.

The example of those bearing up under suffering, reaffirming their faith in and love of God in times of sorrow, has been beautiful and an inspiration.  Still, being a vain person myself, I became vain on God’s behalf.  Are we doing bad PR for him when we publicly pray for a miracle and it isn’t granted?  Is it a scandal to those of little or no faith to see so many pray with great faith only to face tragedy?  Then I remembered the agony in the garden, the world’s most famous “unanswered” prayer.

Because of his perfect response to every challenge, it is easy to slip into an unconscious monophysitism, ignoring the true humanity of Christ.  We forget that Jesus is not merely acting human to give us an example.  He shared our humanity and with it our human struggles and emotions.  When He wept they were real tears.  When He was angry it was true emotion.  When He begged his Father “take this cup from me”, it was His real desire.  The Gospels speak of anguish, sorrow unto death, and drops of blood.  This was not a mere show for our edification but true agony and a longing to escape the suffering that awaited him.

And the Father’s answer was No.

Of course, Jesus’ prayer, like all prayers, was really anything but unanswered.  That No resulted in Jesus’ passion and death, his resurrection and glorious ascension into heaven.  That No was our salvation.  This is what we too must believe about our own prayers.  That the No we receive brings about good surpassing anything we could imagine.  No means a heavenly crown, or a conversion of heart, or an inspiration to others.  Confident in this belief we can pray the second part of Jesus’ words: Thy will be done.

The agony in the garden offers an example of prayer to people in every circumstance.  For the fortunate the lesson is twofold.  We have an obligation to pray for and with the suffering. Pray also that you may not be tested.  “For the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Those facing a frightening future are taught to pray fervently for reprieve.  Pray for miraculous intervention.  There is no shame or weakness in that.   Our Lord himself has shown us how.  And those whose prayers go “unanswered” can pray to accept the will of God and to feel his comfort as he sent the angel to comfort Jesus.  Do all of this with sincerity, with abandon, without shame.  Sometimes God does grant a miracle, but when He does not it will not be the first or last time that the scandal of an unanswered prayer has redounded to His glory and the greater good of men.

image: Renata Sedmakova /

Caitlin Marchand


Caitlin Marchand is a home schooling mother of 4 and a graduate of Christendom College. She enjoys writing in her spare time and blogs at

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  • Charles De Vita

    every Catholic should study these 2 accounts – – and – I

  • Charles De Vita

    and there is a prayer and promises given by Jesus to St. Pio here –

  • mom5

    Years ago my young est asked “mom,who is Agony in the garden?”

  • Akira88

    Prayers are always answered. As you pointed out, the cup wasn’t taken away from Our Lord, so, well … that was the answer for that time.

  • David Griffin

    Priests won’t even give me the time of day anymore but I hope you will consider what I have to say here. I have sadly lost my faith thanks largely to unanswered prayers. I was confronted with the scary reality that prayer didn’t work my doc gave me a medication for high blood pressure that worked like a charm despite years of prayer and no affect on the problem. I asked all sorts of questions of my priest one day and he pretty much told me I needed to decide for myself. He didn’t seem appreciate honest questions like why doesn’t prayer heal amputees. What does god have a against amputees anyway? People are supposedly getting promotions at work, catching game winning TD passes and such thanks to answers to their prayer but 2 million men women and children are starved, gassed and burned alive at Auschwitz despite a tremendous outpouring of faith filled prayer being served up to God. Attacks on holy matrimony (1 man and 1 woman) and abortion continue to explode despite more prayers than ever in history. It doesn’t make a lick of sense. I would have stopped taking my blood pressure med long ago with these outcomes but believers won’t acknowledge or recognize that God doesn’t move on the Earth, at least not like in the first century anyway. Even if prayer was actually being answered there is no way to separate what happens in the lives of everyday people who are nonbelievers and those who are believers because the outcomes are no better for faith filled prayers warriors than they are for atheists who don’t have prayer on their side. Faith is not a function of better health or healing of cancer or other disease. Christians do not have longer life expectancies and such. These facts should hit Christians in the face when they open their doors and take a look outside but they don’t. I would love to believe again but I can no longer draws my conclusions from other peoples experiences, but rather only draw my conclusions from my own experiences which are almost all indicative of the reality that prayer doesn’t work. Any thoughts? Am I not selected for eternal life?

  • David Griffin

    Tell that to this old timer who is pushing 75 and has a list of over 30 things (all still unanswered) he has been praying about for decades. I was told to be patient 40 years ago. Now my patience has worn and it is crystal clear the thing doesn’t work.

  • Akira88

    Don’t give up. St. Monica prayed for her son, Augustine for many years.

    Could it be that your prayers were answered in a way you didn’t expect? I mean, we all request prayers to be answered, and maybe we have expectations of the outcome. God has His own outcome, and it is always to benefit the Spiritual.

    I don’t know what you’re praying for, but God hears your prayers. Time is the measurement we give something, not God. Have you asked the intercession of the BVM or the Saints?

    Pray for perseverance. Our Lord will never abandon us.

    As we begin Holy Week it may be a good time to look at our Lord’s sufferings, at Our Lady who stood at the Cross and watched her son die.

    I will pray for you. Don’t give in to the enemy — he wants you to abandon your prayers. Perseverance is a virtue you’ve demonstrated for many years. Continue to hope,
    pray, and don’t worry”, (Padre Pio)

  • David Griffin

    If there is anything I know about the world in 2015 it is that talk is cheap. False promises, bright hopes and dim chances make up much of today’s society. If you want to do something, action is required of you, murmuring prayers all day will lead to detours and dead ends. I wish I had a nickel for every time I was told not to give up (good example of a detour). Unfortunately I am near the end of life and I don’t know what, if anything, could restore my faith in prayers effectiveness before my days are done. Actually just one unambiguous healing would change my mind, any amputee out there demonstrating the power of prayer. I’ve faced the scary reality that it doesn’t work, have you?